Our pet loss library features articles written by grief professionals that will address many of the questions you may have when dealing with the loss of a pet.
Here you can also read articles and stories from others who have experienced the significant loss of their animal companions.
Shared Grief Stories
“Fannie & Frieda” by Heather
My story is of 2 very loved family pets, Frannie and Frieda, two very missed cats, both hit by vehicles on our street. First was Frannie, a very affectionate 6-year-old grey tabby who loved nothing more than to hang around outside with her cat buddies.
I am an airline employee/web coordinator. The week of the tragic events in New York City, I was working frantically to keep up with events, making sure information provided through our website was not only current but also sensitive to the situation. On Friday, September 14, 2001, I thought the worst was over. It had been an emotionally and physically draining week. I arrived home only to have my neighbor come to my door with Frannie in a box. She had been run over by a car.
I was still trying come to terms with her loss when I arrived home on Monday, January 14, 2002, to find Frieda in the street. I drove up my street and there she was in the center of the road. When I left the house she was inside. After the loss of Frannie, I vowed never to leave the house again and leave her out.
She had gotten out on when my house keeper came over. I had left strict instructions never to let the cat out. Frieda was not road smart at all. She was wonderful cat. She was not even 2-years-old.
I think one of the problems is that our house is at the bottom of a large hill. There is a great lack of regard for the posted speed limit. Drivers seem to think they are immune to animals, or worse, children, stepping out from the curb. I have contacted my local police department to see if they are willing to at least increase police visibility in this area.
My husband and I are now going to sell this house; we just cannot stay here.
My husband would like to get another cat right away. I however do not agree with this. I think we should wait until the move is completed. Nothing will bring back Frannie or Frieda.
If I can say anything at all it is to give your pet everything it needs, just keep them safe or, if outside, on a leash. I know there is deeper tragedy than the loss of two cats, but for me it is the issue at hand that I must find a way to deal with right now.
“The Love of My Life” by Freddysmom
I am 52-years-old and just lost my most beloved companion of 10 ½ years.
Yesterday morning, just 24 hours ago, I had to put my beloved puppy, Freddy, to sleep. I cannot begin to describe the pain I am feeling. I have lost every single family member except for my sister and none of those losses can compare with how I am feeling now.
Freddy was diagnosed with stomach cancer in November 2004. She was operated on and had half of her stomach removed. She came through the surgery fabulously. We then put her through 4 chemo treatments though they were experimental. She was a trouper through it all! A month after the last treatment, she had an ultrasound and things looked great. They told us to bring her back in 6 weeks for another ultrasound.
She was doing quite well for a month but then she vomited. We were alarmed that the cancer had returned but also thought it might have just been a coincidence. Two days later she threw up again.
We called Ohio State University where all the work had been done. They suggested bringing her in for another ultrasound. This time they saw a thickening in the area where the tumour had been. No other treatment was advised. We thought perhaps we would have her for months or more.
Within a week, she was throwing up more. Yesterday morning, she followed me everywhere and was making her noise that she made when she wanted something. She became more persistent. I thought I would take her to the park but she kept making the noise in the car. She had never done this before. I brought her back home and realized she was in pain. She couldn't get comfortable.
I called the vet and she came right over. We put Freddy to sleep and my heart is shattered. I never thought I could feel so empty. She and I had a soul connection. We were inseparable. I want her back. My heart has a hole as big as the universe and my house no longer feels like a home. The loss of her energy is everywhere.
“Love for Lizzie” by Lynne
My cat, Lizzie, was a truly unique cat. She acted like a dog, in that she ran to you if you called, she followed you or strangers down the sidewalk, visited the neighbors, she followed commands, and jumped from the ground into my arms. She was very vocal, and responded in meows when I spoke to her, so much that people commented that it sounded as if we were having a conversation. She was a very important part of my life.
Lizzie was an indoor/outdoor cat, and I thought she didn't go into the street. I had her for 8 years until the day that an ex-boyfriend curiously showed up at my work, with a strange look on his face. He said he had bad news for me, and held out his hand. I couldn't fathom what in the world he was doing with her collar, as he knew she needed to be wearing it. He described finding her on the road, hit by a car. He had taken her to a vet, but she was dead.
My head began to spin, my heart began to pound, and I felt the most indescribable pain and sadness that I can still remember to this day, if I allow myself to go there. (This was 8 years ago.)
He didn't seem to understand why I would want to get her body from the vet. Of course I want to bury her, I told him. I was unable to go retrieve her, to hold her lifeless body when just that morning she was the epitome of life.
I asked my sweet dad to get her for me. Unfortunately, the ex-boyfriend who admittedly was upset by the situation, had not given any thought to the probability that I would want to bury her, and didn't give the vet my name or contact information. Without that info, the vet called the city to dispose of the body.
My father spent 2 hours trying to locate her for me, without any luck. Talk about added pain to an already agonizing day. The bright spot of the day was when a co-worker came to my house with flowers, and a card signed by almost all of my co-workers, and a granite marker with Lizzie's name on it. I may not have been able to bury her, but I was able to honor her in a beautiful garden setting at my mother's house. I will never stop missing her.
“The Day I Lost a Good Friend” by Skozak665
This is a story about my bunny – I am devastated.
It's hard for me to even type at this moment. Where do I begin? Up until two days ago, I had a pet bunny. His name was Bamajama, he was the sweetest, kindest, most loving animal in the world.
I got up Monday morning, late as usual for work. I walked in the computer room where Bam was and said my usual, "Hey buddy morning." I noticed he was in his litter box shaking and that there was diarrhea in his cage so I hurried and cleaned it. Then I called and told my fiancée about it and asked him to keep an eye on Bam when he came home for lunch.
When I got home, the first thing I did is run up the stairs to check up on him. He wasn't his usual hopping around self so I knew something was wrong. I called the vet but she was gone for the day and so they advised me to take him to the emergency vet. By this time it was 7 PM.
I drove to the emergency vet, but discovered they didn't open till 8 PM so I went back home. I drove back to the vet at 8:40 PM and sat in the emergency area. Around 9:43 I was still waiting in the waiting room for Bammy to be seen. He took a big gasp of air and I panicked. My fiancée yelled and they told us to go to the next room. Then they told us he had no heart beat and he was dead.
I haven't stopped crying since that day. I am heart broken. I feel guilt that if I would have brought him to the vet early morning he would have been alive. I feel that he depended on me to be his voice and I let him down; he died because I didn't speak out at the emergency room. I feel so sad and horrible for Bamajama that I let him down when I was supposed to be his voice!
“Winter – My Cat, My Friend, My Baby” by Lisa J.
I adopted Winter on June 17, 1999. He was a beautiful white Maine Coon with bright blue eyes and a little gray patch on his head. He was no older than 3 months when he came to live with us. He was a gift to my kitten, Whiskey, who was the same age. He was so scared when I brought him into the house, but Whiskey happily greeted him. Winter would not come out of the corner for three days. Then he finally realized that Whiskey, my husband and I were his new family.
Winter was such a beautiful cat. He was always skinny but really tall. He could jump higher than anyone. He had a tail that went on forever. Whiskey and Winter were the best of friends, and never left each other's sides. Winter followed Whiskey everywhere. He was this big cat with a squeaky voice. We quickly learned that the only way to get him to eat was to yell, "Food Food" because the lady who bred him did that. So his many nicknames began, starting with "Mr. Foo-Foodie" and "Bow-Boney."
After Winter, we adopted 4 more cats which he accepted - he was like their father figure. He was always so sweet. He had this thing that he loved to eat string. He used to shake when you gave him cheese and sour cream. He loved to go into the bathroom and be petted. He loved to sleep under the covers between me and my husband. Sometimes at night he and his little brother, Weston, would curl up together on the bed and sleep all night in each other’s arms. It's hard to think of him as gone.
Winter died at the age of 3 years and 7 months on December 14, 2002. He had an illness called Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. It affects the left ventricle in the heart and causes blood clots. It's hard to diagnose, since there are not many symptoms. We never knew he was sick. He didn't act sick. One night he had a cough, but we thought it was only a hairball. He was running around with his brothers and then he jumped on the window sill, then collapsed in mid-jump. His eyes filled with fright and he landed on the rug. His leg twitched and that was it; within 20-30 seconds, he was gone.
I freaked. We were all just watching TV and, bam, he was gone. It was too much to handle. He lay on the floor until my husband got a blanket. As he lay there, I saw his best friend in the whole world, Whiskey, give him a last kiss on the head like he was saying goodbye. I lost it.
We brought him outside, where the clear sky was full of stars. It was beautiful. Then I saw a shooting star. I believe that was Winter's spirit going to Heaven.
A memory came to me when I looked at Whiskey: Once, Winter, Whiskey and Weston went outside. Winter came back after a few minutes, but we couldn't find the other two. I put Winter on the leash and brought him back outside. He meowed and left his scent everywhere so Whiskey and Weston could find their way home.
And now we light a candle for Winter every night so he can find his way home.
Whiskey is okay. He looks for his lost friend everywhere, and he wants to be with us all the time. It breaks my heart to see him hurt, but I know it will get better with time. Someday we will all be together again and that will be my Heaven. We love you Winter, always!!!
Lisa Johnston posted her story on Grieving.com™
Grief Support Articles
"Meister" by Linda J. Austin
Most people think that caregivers take care of people. That’s not always the case.
I was almost asleep Tuesday night when I heard an unfamiliar sound. I thought perhaps it was the cat or a squirrel in the barn. The scraping, bumping continued. I went downstairs to find the German Shepherd lying by the woodstove, legs moving as if he were galloping. It's not unusual to see any of our dogs do this, to a lesser extent, when they dream, but Meister's eyes were open and he was moving himself around on the rug. He couldn't get up. The rug was wet with his saliva and urine. He lost control of his bowels.
Almost two years ago our miniature lop-eared angora bunny did the same thing. He couldn't get up. I took him to the vet and came home with syringes, needles, IV solution, antibiotics - my kitchen looked like a hospital. My husband became my assistant as we nursed, bathed and spoon fed bunny. Bunny got better but his head remained tilted and he can only hop in a clockwise direction, otherwise he falls over. When bunny had a relapse we didn't have much hope. We tried a chemotherapy drug - it worked but bunny stopped drinking. Back to spoon feeding, IV hydration.
I petted and talked softly to Meister, while bunny slept and our two other dogs looked on. Meister was a second-hand dog and having my face close to his muzzle made me nervous. He was disoriented. Even though Meister had spent seven years with us, he still had not so pleasant memories of early life with another family, of being chained to a doghouse, no toys, no positive human interaction. When I brought him home from the shelter it was hard to tell who was driving the car - he sat in my lap all the way home.
As I talked and petted, Meister calmed, his heart rate slowed. There was no recognition in his eyes. What would happen now? He tried to get up. I held my breath. He stood. Meister wobbled around the room, stopping long enough to look at me, but wouldn't let me touch him. Finally he lay down behind my chair.
I suddenly realized it was cold downstairs. I put a coat over my pajamas. The other dogs rushed to the door thinking I was going outside. I let them out - Meister went too and came when I called. He seemed wary of the other dogs - very unusual considering he had been the dominant dog. I made some cocoa, watched television and watched Meister. He took a nap. Two hours later I decided I could go to bed. Meister was wiggling and wagging and happy to be petted. There have been no after effects of his seizure.
Last August my husband and I decided not to do the once-a-month chemo therapy with bunny – even the fruity tasting syrup no longer fooled bunny – most of the stuff ended up in his fur or on my clothes.
What unsettled me Tuesday night was that I never expected the youngest dog (my favorite) to have problems. I expected the next crisis would be with bunny or one of the older dogs. I forgot that nothing is static. I forgot that I don't get to choose the changes in life.
We give care to many people and animals, but we seldom give ourselves a hug or recognition. Now give yourself a hug.
Linda J. Austin writes from experience as a nursing assistance and a family caregiver. "When I was assigned my first hospice case, I found my place in life." Retired from several careers, Linda is studying creative art therapy.
"Surviving the Hollow Days after a Pet Has Died" by Kitty Walker, LMSW-ACP
Several years ago my canine soul mate, Kito, escaped peacefully from his prison of congestive heart failure. It was late September, the same time of year I had brought him home as a tiny Sheltie furball 10 years earlier. I was devastated. I had no idea I could hurt so deeply and still be alive. That winter was a blur of bereavement. Just as I thought I was starting to feel better, the season of holidays arrived with its usual tempo of frenetic activity and enforced merriment. I was clearly out of step and decidedly depressed.
Normally I was right in the middle of things, shopping, baking, spending time with friends… always with Kito by my side. An enthusiastic tree trimmer, carol singer, turkey taster, and gift un-wrapper, he adored this time of year and all of its rituals. Without him I felt empty inside, wishing only to be transported to a place in time beyond the "hollow days" of that first season without him.
There is no time of year when it's easy to mourn a beloved pet. But as is the case with all kinds of losses, the winter holiday season can be especially brutal to those in bereavement.
A traditionally family time, it reminds us of whom – and what – we are missing. Our pets, who became treasured members of our families, have left behind a silent void. At a time when we're flooded with well-meaning encouragement to feel good, to have a merry Christmas or a happy Hanukkah, a thankful Thanksgiving, and a prosperous New Year, the contrast felt by those of us grieving a pet can sometimes be overwhelming.
My best to all who are carrying pain through this season.
Ask Kitty is a psychotherapist specializing in grief and loss issues which humans encounter when their pets die. She has worked in this area for a number of years, providing counseling to people at this special time of need. She also provides consultation and education to employees of veterinary clinics in her area.
"When an Animal Loved One Dies" by Katie Boland
In the summer of 1997, my entire pet family left for heaven. The first to go was nine year old Rosie, the Brittany I had rescued some five years earlier. She had eaten raw sewage when the pipes had backed up and burst, and she was so ill, I had to put her down. I had faced mountainous vet bills her entire life for thyroid, incontinence, allergy and digestive problems. I felt guilty that I had not bonded with her like I had with the others. She was hard to love because she ate poop in the backyard and I couldn't kiss her. She gagged constantly. (Wouldn't you?)
Two days later, my dear 18-year-old Siamese, Sasha, had a stroke and his kidneys failed. He was deaf and senile, having spent a good deal of his final year sitting on a (formerly) white chair, shrieking and screeching at the living room wall while vomiting intermittently. He would have died on his own within days, but I saw no reason to prolong his life and made another trip to the vet. As shaken and sad as I was, I consoled myself with the fact he'd had a wonderful, long journey and had not suffered at all. He looked like a kitten in repose.
Less than three months later, it was time to help my cherished and adored Weimaraner, Alex, leave this earth. For two years, his back end had been deteriorating. I had always said that when he was incontinent, that would be it for me. But when he was, I wasn't ready. Sometimes Alex could still stagger outside to relieve himself, but his legs would collapse and he would fall in his poop and I'd have to clean him up. One day after returning from the vet, I placed him gently on the driveway while I locked up the car. I turned to catch him rolling down the hill, looking frightened and helpless. I knew it was time to let this mighty dog, who had been so proud in life, go on. And yet, I wasn't ready to let him go. And he would need my help to leave.
Looking for Answers
I had my own live, call-in talk radio show here in LA at the time, and I did several shows looking for answers on letting go. Not everyone agreed it was time. When I told of Alex's plight, one listener suggested wheeling him around in a wagon. That smacked of selfishness. Would he want to be dragged around like that? This once regal, powerful, incredibly fast dog? My instincts told me no. I kept wishing he'd die on his own. I hated having to decide. Looking back, I am most glad that I was with him; that he died in my daughter's and my arms; that our faces were the last ones he saw. Animals sometimes need our help to leave.
My radio callers had told me to celebrate his impending passing, so we had a farewell party. Our friends all came to bid him Godspeed and we fed him filet mignon. The next day, one of my girlfriends arrived with a Whopper for his last meal. He gobbled it gratefully as I spooned with him on my bed. We took pictures and prayed and sang to him. We lit candles and played my daughter's birth music (my friend calls it "soul-traveling" music) and waited for the vet. Alex started to tremble. The vet was mercifully swift. Alex simply laid his head down in my lap and was gone. I stayed by his side until the people from the crematorium came for his body. Then I broke out the vodka and peanut M&M's.
Alex's ashes are still on my nightstand. I made an altar with candles on the spot where he used to sleep, with his obedience trophies and photos, and the collars from all three animals. It was comforting to think of them all together. But the house was deathly silent.
The pain was sharp and raw. I swore I could hear his tags jingling. I could hear all their tags. I saw wisps of Alex turning a corner. I felt his presence constantly and longed to touch him one last time. We had taken lots of pictures that we framed and placed all over the house. We had made a video. We had even kept some fur when he was shedding that last summer. I used to put my face in that fur, hoping for one last whiff, before all scent of him faded away. I felt gypped because he had lasted only 11 years. He had been the hardest dog to raise: stubborn and willful and really hyper. But he was my Boo Boo. I felt afraid without my watchdog. As a single mom, I had never feared with him around. His menacing looks belied his sweet heart.
People said, "It's only a dog." Well, I lost my youngest brother, Robert, to muscular dystrophy and Alex's loss felt the same. There was no difference. My daughter didn't feel the loss like I did. After awhile, when I would cry, she would become exasperated with me. I had to find other "pet" people, who understood, with whom I could wail. I just needed to talk about my dog. Now my daughter and I reminisce, which I can do mostly without tears, and we regale each other with stories.
Animals teach us many lessons. Their deaths gave me some perspective on the fretting we all do about our shapes. I have realized that the body is only a shell, a container for the soul. If you've ever seen a dead body of any kind, you know it is empty without spirit. Losing an animal makes you spiritual in a hurry. That shift is a great example of pain causing growth. That's why pain is a gift. Our animals continue to give to us even as they cease to live. I also felt that watching me care for the elderly animals, and seeing me make adjustments in our lives as they aged, enriched my daughter immeasurably.
I was so bereft after Alex's death that my therapist gave me a tape called "Animal Death, A Spiritual Journey" by Penelope Smith, an animal specialist. She communicates with animals telepathically, both living and dead, and counsels owners to assist them toward a more ideal relationship with their animals. She also performs grief counseling for those whose animals have left the earth. Now, for some of you, this may seem a bit out there, but if you are wallowing in sorrow and desperate for relief, you may find you are open to things you never before considered.
I wept away my grief to the sound of Smith's soothing voice. Although I was overwhelmed at times, I knew I wasn't stuck; I was moving, however slowly, through the worst of it.
In her book "Animals: Our Return to Wholeness", Smith writes:
"Loss is the tearing from that which you are so in love. Staying in the loss is hell. Coming through the pain brings a compassion so deep and rapture so ardent, you know it can only be won by the contrast -- going through the depths to feel the heights."
As I tried going forward, the stabs of grief and their forcefulness often surprised me, even several months later. But as they came less and less frequently, I knew I was beginning to heal.
The Path to Healing
I asked Smith for ways to ease the pain of grieving. She stresses the importance of accepting your feelings. "Don't try to rush the process. Don't deny your feelings. Don't minimize them. Love is love. Grief is grief." No matter for whom it is felt. She reminds us that animals are not lesser beings. We are all spiritual beings with form and purpose. She also recommends getting into a support group. You can meet with others who are struggling with their pets' deaths and it will normalize your own feelings. I had a male friend who confessed in bewildered amazement that he'd gone into therapy after his dog died. He had survived his divorce and relatives' deaths, but losing his beloved Claude had driven him to the therapist's couch. I know from experience that it's not healthy to let the grief accumulate inside you. It will find a way out in the form of physical aches or illnesses if left unexpressed.
When I spoke with Smith, I was eager for her to reveal ways to contact animals that have departed. She encourages making contact, saying, "Animals are spiritual beings. They love to communicate; most communications reveal their joy, love of life, patience, and generally refreshing perceptions."
Sit in a quiet place. Visualize your animal. See them as they were in life. Tell them you would like to feel them, to communicate with them. Tell them you are hurting, you are open, and you want to be in touch. You may not feel them right away. There are lots of ways to be contacted. You may be washing dishes later and you'll know they are right beside you. Or you'll hear them scratch at the door. If you invite them, they will make their presence felt. Often they visit in dreams, as do living animals, because we are most accessible during those times. When you awake, trust what you get and ask what you are supposed to learn from it.
Sasha and Rosie come and go in my dreams, reassuring me they are happy and carefree and whole. Alex comes with them, he comes alone, and he comes with other Weimaraner pals. He visits often. At Christmas, they all showed up with golden halos, howling and singing and flying around, showing off their wings and airborne abilities. Sometimes my brother Robert runs with them, freed at last from his wheelchair in life.
About a year after the deaths, while I was rebuilding my pet family, I had a dream about a little female cat that needed saving. So strong was the pull, I got up the next morning and headed straight for the pound. There she was, a fluffy little Siamese-mix kitten, pushing her paws through the cage to touch me. I felt an instant connection to her and knew she was meant to be mine. My daughter named her Phoebe. Smith talks of her being beckoned to pet stores and finding an animal that was calling to her. She tells of the lizard that literally hopped in the box to go home with her when his cage was opened. Animals have their own life path and spiritual course, just like we do. Smith explains, "Some animals don't want to be saved. Dying gets complicated for domesticated animals when they or their people do not want to let go of their life together. They may feel obligated to stay in their worn-out or mal-functioning bodies for their people's sake." She advises seeking the best treatment, then being ready to let go. We grapple today with whether or not to extend human life at all costs. Many people have "Do-Not-Resuscitate" orders for themselves, yet cannot do the same for their animals. Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is to let them go.
Often a family's first encounter with death is that of a pet's. Animals teach us how to deal with life's passing. I believe my animals died in the order they did to help me manage the grieving process, and I am very grateful to them for their wisdom and sacrifice.
Smith also talks about people who feel they've let their animals down because they weren't with them at the exact moment they left this world. She feels that some can't leave while their humans are hovering, and they need space to pass on. "It is very common for animals, like people, to die when everyone leaves them alone," Smith says. According to her, it's not unusual for some animals to die in order to follow their person to the other side. I am reminded of a friend who lost his wife to cancer and within three months of her death, their dog and two cats died too.
Some people will be ready to get a new animal right away; others may need a lot more recovery time before they are willing to risk their hearts again. Some may feel disloyal for "replacing" the pet that died. I knew I needed to fill my empty arms immediately, but I questioned getting another dog since Alex's loss had been so profound. I've heard many pet owners proclaim they'd never love another pet the way they had loved the one they'd lost.
Since I had sold my home and was living in a place with no yard, a dog was temporarily out of the question. And so my daughter and I began our new family with two Siamese kitten cousins, Willyum and Shadow, in addition to Phoebe. Having these new little beings to love was very healing. Still I longed for a dog. I couldn't pass one on the street without stopping. And so as soon as I could, I moved us again into a house and we got our beautiful Vizsla puppy named Cecil.
Cecil picked my daughter and me. When we went to see the puppies, which were just 2 weeks old, this little guy wiggled out of the heap, his eyes still closed, and wobbled toward us. He reached out with his tiny paw until he found our fingers. He came running to us each week that we visited him, until we could bring him home. He knew we were his. Now I have velvet ears to kiss and puppy fur to sniff again. He reminds me of Alex every day. For a while, my daughter was convinced he was Alex. She would look at the new animals wondering if the old ones were somehow inside them. Smith feels that many companion animals do, in fact, return to their people. Some within weeks, others take years. I asked her how one would know if an animal has reincarnated and she said the new pet would show signs, like imitating habits or demonstrating preferences of the former pet. You may think an animal has come back, but he could be a new soul who is a lot like the one you lost, who has been sent to help you in the same way his predecessor did. "Wait and trust. The universe will provide," affirms Smith.
Part of the inherent contract we make with our animals is that we will take care of them and they will predecease us. Once I experienced the death of my pets, I realized I could survive it. As painful as it was, I knew I could endure it again. That freedom in knowing releases me to welcome new pets and receive all the joy their new lives bring. Smith offers hope to those of you whose grief is lingering; "Death is not the end. It is the change from one realm and form of life to another." Amen.
Katie Boland, Director and Founder, is the author of the popular "I Got Pregnant. You Can Too! How Healing Yourself Physically, Mentally and Spiritually Leads to Fertility". Boland was diagnosed with lupus during her 3-year battle with infertility, a battle she ultimately won. She is the mother of an 11-year-old daughter, Mimi. While researching her book, she discovered the Infertility Program at Harvard and vowed to bring it to the West Coast. The Mind Body Institute was born in the Fall of 1999 in Los Angeles.